Our big fat Greek holiday (1)

Long ago, when we took holidays, Greece was always our first choice. We love the food, the people, the climate, the scenery, the all-pervading smell of herbs, everything about the islands.

On Samos we used to rely on the local bus to take us to Tsamadou (rhymes with Xanadu, where did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree) the most peaceful of all the beaches, never crowded, no balls being kicked around, no vendors, no sunbeds, no radios. Just the sun, the clearest blue waters, and a crowd of people wearing no clothes, because this was the unofficial nudist beach.

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Tsamadou beach

I don’t know if it’s still the case, but at that time it was illegal to sunbathe nude. Occasionally a helicopter could be heard clacking in the distance, and by the time it overflew the beach everybody was decently covered with a towel. The likelihood of the police actually catching anybody was minimal, because accessing the beach involved a long and tortuous climb/slither down a steep, dusty path peppered with scratchy undergrowth and small stones that bounced around noisily so everybody knew when a new arrival was imminent.

You had to take a crash course on getting to Tsamadou if you relied on public transport as we did.  The bus station lurked in a sweltering square behind the church. Acquiring a ticket was the first challenge. The buses all looked the same, elderly, dignified and festooned around the windscreen with icons, small coloured furry bobbles that swung and danced to the movement of the bus, and notices in Greek that we didn’t understand. We always took the bus that left at 10.00 am. You stepped onto the bus and told the driver where you wanted to go. One of three things happened:

1. He sold you a ticket and led you to a seat.

Or

2. He said the bus didn’t go to your destination.

Or

3. He told you that you needed to buy a ticket from the ticket office behind the bakery.

If (1) then you could sink into the hot seat with a sigh of relief.

If (2) then you had to go away and return a few minutes later giving him a different destination, whereupon he would either (1) or (3) you.

If (3) then you went to the ticket office and didn’t tell them your actual destination, in case they said the bus didn’t to there. Instead you gave them a different destination.

But if you went first to the ticket office the chances were they’d say you needed to buy your ticket direct from the bus. There was never any rhyme or reason for that particular riddle.

However, there was a valid reason for (2), because if you said Tsamadou they immediately knew you intended to spend a day nakedly on the beach, which was largely disapproved of. You could try saying you wanted to go to Kokkari, the nearest village within walking distance to Tsamadou, and might be lucky enough to fool them, or you could say you were going to Pythagorio and pay to go there, but then descend at Kokkari. It was a bit of a poker game.

So was the return journey. If you stood on the rock-strewn glaring white dusty road in the late afternoon after hiking back up the mountain from Tsamadou, the bus might stop, or it might not, meaning you had either to try your luck with a later bus, or hike into Kokkari.

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The buses were somewhat like this.

It took about 4 days to crack the system and make it work for us, and work it did until the penultimate day of our stay, when it came crashing down.

Armed with our usual victuals of exquisite Greek bread, cheese, peaches and a bottle of wine, we trotted down to the bus station, only to find that it was no longer a bus station but a quiet car park.

There was no indication of why, nor where the buses had gone.

We wandered around for a few minutes, asking where the bus station was in my extremely limited Greek.

“Behind the church,” said the people I asked. “Behind the church,” said the Tourist Office. “Behind the church,” said the policeman.

As we marched about in growing frustration, we saw a bus wending its way out of Samos from a small side road tucked away in the back streets from where an almighty uproar of shouts and bangs and whistles emanated.

There we met a large crowd of extremely angry Greek people, numerous chickens in baskets and several goats on strings, surrounding a sweating man waggling his arms in the air and wearing a frightened expression. People were banging and kicking the buses parked nose to tail in the alley.

We found somebody who spoke English and asked what was happening. It transpired that the bus station had been evicted the previous night from the church square for non-payment of rent, so it had temporarily installed itself in this little lane, blocking it entirely to traffic and leaving no information as to where it could be found. People were understandably upset.

However, with commendable good humour from the drivers and goodwill from the passengers, and the cooperation of the livestock, we were soon on our way. The driver sold us the tickets, he obligingly stopped at Tsamadou, and we enjoyed our last day.

Would we ever go back to Greece? You bet. Lazy, peaceful, happy days spiced up with just a tiny drama 😀

Timing!

Phew.

Yesterday my trusty No. 1 computer collapsed. 😦

No. 2 has been brought out of retirement while No. 1 goes in for treatment. Prognosis unknown.

No. 1 doesn’t owe me anything. I bought it from Ebay for 180 euros about 3 years ago. It’s a Dell and has given excellent service. Until yesterday.

Usually these things seem to happen at the worst possible time, but in this case the timing was fine, because my latest book – a collection of my favourite very quick, easy, meat-free and (mostly) healthy recipes – was published on Monday, after I’d completed all the edits and saved them to Dropbox. 🙂

Of the nice reviews so far, I particularly love this one from a gentleman in America:

Recently I switched to a diet that would keep the pH of my body in a more alkaline state. I am not much of a cook, but I realized that to make sure I get the diet I wanted, I will have to learn to prepare the meals myself. In addition, I have a cultural problem with cookbooks. They make me think of science experiments that I will likely fail at because I lack the right equipment, ingredients or intelligence to implement correctly.

Susie Kelly’s book addresses all of these issues and it is now my top choice in vegan or vegetarian cookbooks.

Her recipes are vegetarian, including fish and eggs, with notes on which recipes are vegan or gluten free. This helps me focus on the vegan recipes which are closer to the pH diet I want.

The ingredients and equipment are easy to come by. I don’t need fancy kitchen gadgets. She doesn’t use them herself.

The recipes are simple which lazy cooks, and inexperienced cooks like myself, need. The recipes are also easy to find in the book.

Perhaps most of all, she enhances the recipes by enclosing them in entertaining stories which make them memorable. This got me thinking that recipes may be closer to favorite poems or stories that one re-tells rather than science experiments.”

I’m not a bragger, honestly, but that one made me glow. 🙂

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Cover design by the brilliant David Lewis @davidlewiscartoons.com

Available immediately as digital download or in paperback from Amazon worldwide.

PS  If anybody would like to volunteer to wind the handle, that would be very nice.

Time is running out fast!

I can hardly believe it’s been 6 months since we decided to go on a Kenyan safari, back to the beautiful country where I spent so many years.

Even less can I believe that it’s less than 8 weeks before we depart!

There are still four places available on this safari, which is going to be the subject of my next book,  but bookings will be closing at the end of June.

There will also be a professional wildlife photographer accompanying us.

I managed to find very reasonably priced return tickets from Paris to Nairobi through Expedia.

Here’s our itinerary, which includes, as well as tours of the great parks like Samburu, Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Lake Nakuru, visits to the swish Mount Kenya Safari Club and the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where you can get up close and personal to the babies. If you are tempted, jump aboard, it’s going to be a wonderful, memorable adventure.

http://www.asyoulikeitsafaris.com/Kenya-95th-Bomb-Group-WWII-Photographic-Safari.html

Some of the photos taken from last year’s safari.

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Baby elephant walk

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Very rare leopard sighting

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Watching you watching them.

Make yourself at home, why don't you.

Make yourself at home, why don’t you.

Cords and chains

Next Sunday will be the first anniversary of the day we drove to Dunkirk to collect Tommy from the SPA.

He’s changed so much over the last year. He is unrecognisable from the scrawny, scabby and staring-coated dog that he was then, and is far more relaxed and confident than when he arrived. He still stands at the gate looking wistful if we go out without him, but he’s no longer frantic that he’s going to be abandoned again.

The one area that we hadn’t made much progress is walking on a lead. He’s a puller, crouching low, digging in his claws and putting all his weight on his broad chest, and at 30 kilos he’s just too strong. We tried several different designs of no–pull halters, and a harness, all without success. He just pulls too much. Consequently we have been unable to enjoy taking him out, which means that we haven’t been able to enjoy going out ourselves for any length of time and leaving the dogs at home.

But I recently bought a new ‘no-pull’ halter that actually works! It’s just a few feet of soft woven cord that fits the dog’s head in a figure of eight – you loop it over the head, twist it up under the chin and loop it back over the nose. There are no straps, clips or buckles to adjust. It doesn’t ride up over the eyes, there’s no pressure on the neck, and it works like a dream.

So yesterday we went out for an afternoon on France’s ‘green Venice’ – the Marais Poitevin. As it was a sunny Sunday afternoon we wanted to avoid the busiest areas, and so headed for Magné where we followed a narrow shady lane down to the river bank. We wanted to cross the river. There was no bridge. But there was this:

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Tommy needed no encouragement to  jump aboard, but Tally was most reluctant and had to be pulled from the front and pushed from the back. 🙂 Terry then hauled us across to the far side of the very green river.

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We followed the bank along to the lock.

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The lock keeper’s cottage and two lock-winders

Tommy was interested in the lock, and the dog in the boat in the lock.

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Our walk continued over the weir.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks to their halters, both dogs walked beautifully, without pulling

We didn’t meet any other walkers.

We had to wait for the return ferry.

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And then it was our turn to chain back to the other side.

All made possible by this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s called The Perfect Pace no-pull halter leash. And it’s a “Yes” from me, a 5* product.  For the first time since Tommy arrived, we were all able to go out together, hassle-free. Who would have thought something so simple could make such a change.